Find out about whitebait regulations and the whitebaiting season for all of New Zealand except the West Coast.

The Department of Conservation is responsible for managing New Zealand’s whitebait fisheries. Observe the regulations and conserve our species.

Download this information in a brochure: The whitebaiter's guide to whitebaiting (PDF, 4,380K)

Summary of whitebait fishing regulations 

The regulations summarised here are for the whole of New Zealand except the West Coast of the South Island. Also see West Coast whitebait regulations.

Fishing season

The whitebait season is open between 15 August and 30 November (inclusive) in all areas of New Zealand except the West Coast of the South Island and the Chatham Islands.

The season runs between 1 December to the last day of February (inclusive) in the Chatham Islands.

The taking of whitebait at all other times is prohibited. Fishing is only permitted between 5:00 am and 8:00 pm or between 6:00 am and 9:00 pm when New Zealand Daylight Saving is being observed.

Fishing gear

‘Fishing gear’ includes all nets, screens, lines or other devices that are used, or are capable of being used, to take whitebait. ‘Drag net’ means any net or any rope, material or device used in conjunction with the net that is:

  • weighted on the bottom edge, and
  • operated by surrounding any whitebait and being drawn through any water.

Whitebait nets must have a mouth no larger than 4.5 m (measured around the inside of the net frame) and framing material no wider than 120 mm. Drag nets must be no taller than 1 m in height and be flat when laid on a flat surface. Both whitebait nets and dragnets must be no more than 3.5 m in length.

No fishing gear shall:

  • exceed more than one-third of the water channel width
  • be used in conjunction with another person’s gear to exceed more than one-third of the channel width
  • exceed 6 m in total length

No person shall set or use more than one whitebait net at a time. Every person who sets or uses a whitebait net must remain within 10 m of the net. Fishing gear must be removed from the water at the end of fishing or the end of the day, whichever is earlier. No person shall possess whitebait in conjunction with any whitebait net that is not permitted to be used under the whitebait regulations, whether or not that net is being used for fishing at the time.

Whitebaiting net diagram.
Whitebaiting net diagram


Unlawfully taken fish must be immediately returned to the waters from which they were obtained, taking care to ensure their survival. No person shall discard or dump on shore any fish taken when fishing for whitebait.

No person shall fish for whitebait within 20 m of any tide gate, floodgate, confluence or culvert, or fish from any bridge, or from any vessel. Nothing in these regulations permits any person fishing for whitebait to interfere with, alter or modify the natural bed or banks of any river, stream, estuary or channel.

Distance between fishers and fishing structures

There is no set distance between whitebait fishers or whitebait fishing structures outside the West Coast. Fishers must ensure they have checked and comply with all other regulations.

West Coast whitebait fishing rules.


Persons offending against these regulations may be issued an infringement fine, and may also be prosecuted, and if convicted, face a fine of up to $5000.

More information about our enforcement tools.

About this summary

This is a summary of the Whitebait Fishing Regulations 1994 and 1995 amendments. It is a guide only, has no legal standing, and does not contain all the rules. Familiarise yourself with the full regulations on the New Zealand Legislation website.

Check, Clean and Dry between waterways logo.
Clean, Check, Dry to help prevent the spread of didymo and other freshwater pests

Check, Clean, Dry

Stop the spread of didymo and other freshwater pests.

Didymo is an exotic alga that invades waterways. To prevent the spread of freshwater pests such as didymo, always Check, Clean, Dry all footwear (including waders), vehicles, fishing equipment and other items before entering, and when moving between, waterways.

For more information and specific cleaning guidelines, visit MPI biosecurity or stop the spread.


Contact any DOC office for more information. 

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